The importance of cross-department network planning

We consume more internet bandwidth than ever before. People are adopting new technologies such as 4k and 8k video streaming, and the number of connected devices is increasing significantly. With the rise of applications such as VR and AR, there is no indication that the hunger for bandwidth will saturate any time soon.

At the office we are also relying on robust internet connectivity. A minute offline is a minute of wasted time. Companies are moving their data to the cloud for reliability and practical reasons, they need access to it all the time.

Even when we are on the road, we need to be “plugged in” through our smartphones. The next mobile evolution, 5G, will be able to support the growing number of connected devices and higher bandwidth requirements. These 5G antenna sites will be located closer together and will require a faster backhauling network.

Need for speed, need for fiber

It is obvious that there is a strong need to deploy fiber. But this is easier said than done, as each type of end point has its own technical requirements. Businesses require high reliability, to support this the operator needs to deploy a ring network with P2P technology. While residents and 5G sites could be put on a shared PON network. Typically, the different fiber demand locations are spread out over the whole city.

For example a business is located on the ground floor of an apartment building with a 5G antenna on the roof. Next to this building, there are single family homes and further down the street there is a lamppost with a small cell attached to it. In this case, there will be no clear boundary between the different networks.

Deploying a network using a single technology is already a difficult task. When you use different technologies, this becomes even more difficult. The operator needs to foresee enough fibers for each location and ensure end-to-end connectivity following the right architecture. Of course, he wants to do this in the most efficient way. Using cables as efficiently as possible serving all locations. The goal should be to build a single heterogeneous network. This limits the needed investment instead of building 3 separate networks using the same trenches. This shows a clear need for design automation to handle this complexity.

All-in, cross-department network planning

The best option is to build the complete network, serving all different endpoints, at once. This is the most cost effective option. Also, the regulator or city might prevent the operator from opening the street for trenching every few years. So, the operator has to build it one time, or risk to limit network expansion opportunities in the future. Not thinking future-proof when deploying a fiber network can thus put a limit on the strategy of the company.

Typically an operator has one department responsible for mobile networks, one for fixed residential customers and one for businesses. Each of them is responsible for the end-to-end infrastructure and services. But as all different services need fiber, there will have to be some organizational changes. There should be only one department responsible for the fiber network. This department will collect all end point locations together with the requirements, and design the network. Design automation tools help to handle the complexity and challenging roll-out targets of the different departments.
Spare capacity, future-proof investment

A general best practice is to build a network with spare capacity to support future expansions. There are different ways to do this: foresee additional fibers for each home, lay cables with spare capacity, bring capacity already up to the cabinet from the central office and lay ducts with vacant slots. This allows you to easily upgrade your network in the future without having to bring fibers all the way from the central office to each locations, forcing you to trench again. This way you can make an interesting offer to new businesses for a fiber connection or densify your 5G network.

From our calculations, building a future-proof network doesn’t need to be that much more expensive. On a particular case where we calculated the costs of an FTTH network, where we foresee spare capacity only results in a 5 to 10 percent increase in network cost, depending on the equipment costs and the amount of spare capacity that was foreseen. This relatively small additional deployment cost will pay back itself in the future when you need to expand you network as you will have multiple points in the network where you have fiber capacity available, close to potential new businesses, residential customers or 5G hotspots.

Case study

At Broadband World Forum 2017 we presented a case study on network convergence using an area in Berlin. We selected an area of 1800 residential buildings, 200 business and 4G and 5G sites. We used FiberPlanIT to compare the cost of deploying separate networks. Each with their own architectural requirements versus deploying a converged network. We also investigated the cost impact of designing with spare capacity on different levels of the network. The presentation and the findings can be found on Slideshare.